The NHS breast cancer screening scandal: who has been affected?

On Wednesday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed that over 450,000 women in England may have had their lives shortened as a result of a computer glitch that prevented them from receiving a final breast screening invitation.

A vast number of invitations for a final test weren’t sent out to women between their 68th and 71st birthday. As a result, up to 309,000 women aged between 70 and 79 will be offered the opportunity for a catch-up NHS breast screening test this year.

Speaking in the Commons, Hunt stated that a computer algorithm was to blame. He did, however, admit that the mistake was “not good enough”, and promised an independent review on the matter.

He also “apologised wholeheartedly” to women affected by the grave error.

He said, “For them and others it is incredibly upsetting to know that you did not receive an invitation for screening at the correct time and totally devastating to hear you may have lost or be about to lose a loved one because of administrative incompetence.”

So who exactly has been affected by the NHS breast cancer screening scandal?

Jeremy Hunt revealed that since 2009, 450,000 women between the ages of 68 – 71 had failed to receive invites to crucial breast cancer screenings. It’s also been reported by the BBC that women up to the age of 79 have also been affected.

It’s thought that around 135 – 270 women may have had their lives shortened as a result of the error, having not received invitations to the final scan and not being diagnosed as early as possible.

Women in Scotland have fortunately not been affected by the glitch, as they have a separate computer system.

Women in Wales and Ireland operate similar systems to those in the UK – but they have been assured that there is no reason why they would have also been affected.

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Who is invited for breast cancer screening by the NHS?

Currently, breast cancer screening is offered to women between the ages of 50-70 every three years – due to the likelihood of getting breast cancer rising as we get older.

The breast cancer screening aims to spot cancer early, by using an X-ray mammogram to detect tumours that are too small for us to spot ourselves. However, many women still detect cancer by noticing their own symptoms.

What happens now?

As an attempt to start changing things, women affected will be contacted by letter from the NHS before the end of May. And women under 72 will also receive an appointment for a mammogram. Jeremy Hunt also reassured that any woman within the age group will receive a mammogram within six months, if she wants one.

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